Date of this Version
Published in Textiles and Politics: Textile Society of America 13th Biennial Symposium Proceedings, Washington, DC, September 18- September 22, 2012.
The embroidery of Gujarat State in India is relatively well known to Western textile enthusiasts. Often referred to as shisha or abla embroidery in reference to the tiny mirrors it includes, it is the subject of numerous books and exhibitions some of which were organized to help preserve traditions from the 1960's. Jain's seminal work, Folk art and culture of Gujarat (1980), for example, catalogues the Shreyas Collection, developed in the late 1970's in anticipation of the demise of many folk crafts in Gujarat. This paper examines the fraught context of embroidery in Kutch, the largest district in Gujarat, since the late 1960's. There have been profound changes within the district politically, economically, environmentally, and culturally? Changes which have affected traditional lifestyles. For the Mutwa, for example, their livelihood as pastoralists was completely undermined in one generation. Embroidery emerged at this point as an income generating activity for women. With improved roads and transportation, embroidery is also attracting increasing numbers of tourists drawn by the area's reputation for fine crafts and apparent timelessness. Embroidery is also viewed as backward, provincial, and even detrimental to development. New embroidery is often dismissed as lacking in authenticity. Mutwa women are not unaware of these contradictions. I argue that embroidery is akin to Bhaba's "third space" (1994). Characterized by conflict, tension, and creativity, embroidery as third space negotiates change, forges new power relations and effects evolving, hybrid identities.